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The nation’s most renowned investigator and forensics expert, Lincoln Rhyme, is drafted to investigate. While his partner, Amelia Sachs, traces the victim’s steps in Manhattan, Rhyme leaves the city to pursue the sniper himself. As details of the case start to emerge, the pair discovers that not all is what it seems.
When a deadly, knife-wielding assassin begins systematically eliminating all evidence–including the witnesses–Lincoln’s investigation turns into a chilling battle of wits against a cold-blooded killer.
I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.
—Evelyn Beatrice Hall, The Friends of Voltaire, 1906
TUESDAY, MAY 9
THE POISONWOOD TREE
THE FLASH OF LIGHT TROUBLED HIM.
A glint, white or pale yellow, in the distance.
From the water? From the strip of land across the peaceful turquoise bay?
But here, there could be no danger. Here, he was in a beautiful and isolated resort. Here, he was out of the glare of media and the gaze of enemies.
Roberto Moreno squinted out the window. He was merely in his late thirties but his eyes were not good and he pushed the frames higher on his nose and scanned the vista—the garden outside the suite’s window, the narrow white beach, the pulsing blue-green sea. Beautiful, isolated… and protected. No vessels bobbed within sight. And even if an enemy with a rifle could have learned he was here and made his way unseen through the industrial plants on that spit of land a mile away across the water, the distance and the pollution clouding the view would have made a shot impossible.
No more flashes, no more glints.
You’re safe. Of course you are.
But still Moreno remained wary. Like Martin Luther King, like Gandhi, he was always at risk. This was the way of his life. He wasn’t afraid of death. But he was afraid of dying before his work was done. And at this young age he still had much to do. For instance, the event he’d just finished organizing an hour or so ago—a significant one, sure to get a lot of people’s attention—was merely one of a dozen planned for the next year.
And beyond, an abundant future loomed.
Dressed in a modest tan suit, a white shirt and royal blue tie—oh, so Caribbean—the stocky man now filled two cups from the coffeepot that room service had just delivered and returned to the couch. He handed one to the reporter, who was setting up a tape recorder.
“Señor de la Rua. Some milk? Sugar?”
“No, thank you.”
They were speaking in Spanish, in which Moreno was fluent. He hated English and only spoke it when he needed to. He’d never quite shucked the New Jersey accent when he was speaking in his native tongue, “hehr” for “her,” “mirrah” for “mirror,” “gun” for “gone.” The tones of his own voice took him right back to his early days in the States—his father working long hours and living life sober, his mother spending long hours not. Bleak landscapes, bullies from a nearby high school. Until salvation: the family’s move to a place far kinder than South Hills, a place where even the language was softer and more elegant.
The reporter said, “But call me Eduardo. Please.”
“And I’m Roberto.”
The name was really “Robert” but that smacked of lawyers on Wall Street and politicians in Washington and generals on the battlefields sowing foreign ground with the bodies of the locals like cheap seeds.
“You live in Argentina,” Moreno said to the journalist, who was a slight man, balding and dressed in a tie-less blue shirt and threadbare black suit. “Buenos Aires?”
“Do you know about the name of the city?”
De la Rua said no; he wasn’t a native.
“The meaning is ‘good air,’ of course,” Moreno said. He read extensively—several books a week, much of it Latin American literature and history. “But the air referred to was in Sardinia, Italy, not Argentina. So called after a settlement on top of a hill in Cagliari. The settlement was above the, let us say, pungent smells of the old city and was accordingly named Buen Ayre. The Spanish explorer who discovered what became Buenos Aires named it after that settlement. Of course that was the first settlement of the city. They were wiped out by the natives, who didn’t enjoy the exploitation by Europe.”
De la Rua said, “Even your anecdotes have a decidedly anti-colonial flavor.”
Moreno laughed. But the humor vanished and he looked quickly out the window again.
That damn glint of light. Still, though, he could see nothing but trees and plants in the garden and that hazy line of land a mile away. The inn was on the largely deserted southwest coast of New Providence, the island in the Bahamas where Nassau was located. The grounds were fenced and guarded. And the garden was reserved for this suite alone and protected by a high fence to the north and south, with the beach to the west.
No one was there. No one could be there.
A bird, perhaps. A flutter of leaf.
Simon had checked the grounds not long ago. Moreno glanced at him now, a large, quiet Brazilian, dark-complected, wearing a nice suit—Moreno’s guard dressed better than he did, though not flashy. Simon, in his thirties, looked appropriately dangerous, as one would expect, and want, in this profession but he wasn’t a thug. He’d been an officer in the army, before going civilian as a security expert.
He was also very good at his job. Simon’s head swiveled; he’d become aware of his boss’s gaze and immediately stepped to the window, looking out.
“Just a flash of light,” Moreno explained.
The bodyguard suggested drawing the shades.
“I think not.”
Moreno had decided that Eduardo de la Rua, who’d flown here coach class at his own expense from the city of good air, deserved to enjoy the beautiful view. He wouldn’t get to experience much luxury, as a hardworking journalist known for reporting the truth, rather than producing puff pieces for corporate officials and politicians. Moreno also decided to take the man to a very nice meal at the South Cove Inn’s fine restaurant for lunch.
Simon gazed outside once more, returned to his chair and picked up a magazine.
De la Rua clicked on the tape recorder. “Now, may I?”
“Please.” Moreno turned his full attention to the journalist.
“Mr. Moreno, your Local Empowerment Movement has just opened an office in Argentina, the first in the country. Could you tell me how you conceived the idea? And what your group does?”
Moreno had given this lecture dozens of times. It varied, based on the particular journalist or audience, but the core was simple: to encourage indigenous people to reject U.S. government and corporate influence by becoming self-sufficient, notably through microlending, microagriculture and microbusiness.
He now told the reporter, “We resist American corporate development. And the government’s aid and social programs, whose purpose, after all, is simply to addict us to their values. We are not viewed as human beings; we are viewed as a source of cheap labor and a market for American goods. Do you see the vicious cycle? Our people are exploited in American-owned factories and then seduced into buying products from those same companies.”
The journalist said, “I’ve written much about business investment in Argentina and other South American countries. And I know about your movement, which also makes such investments. One could argue you rail against capitalism yet you embrace it.”
Moreno brushed his longish hair, black and prematurely gray. “No, I rail against the misuse of capitalism—the American misuse of capitalism in particular. I am using business as a weapon. Only fools rely on ideology exclusively for change. Ideas are the rudder. Money is the propeller.”
The reporter smiled. “I will use that as my lead. Now, some people say, I’ve read some people say you are a revolutionary.”
“Ha, I’m a loudmouth, that’s all I am!” The smile faded. “But mark my words, while the world is focusing on the Middle East, everyone has missed the birth of a far more powerful force: Latin America. That’s what I represent. The new order. We can’t be ignored any longer.”
Roberto Moreno rose and stepped to the window.
Crowning the garden was a poisonwood tree, about forty feet tall. He stayed in this suite often and he liked the tree very much. Indeed, he felt a camaraderie with it. Poisonwoods are formidable, resourceful and starkly beautiful. They are also, as the name suggests, toxic. The pollen or smoke from burning the wood and leaves could slip into the lungs, searing with agony. And yet the tree nourishes the beautiful Bahamian swallowtail butterfly, and white-crowned pigeons live off the fruit.
I am like this tree, Moreno thought. A good image for the article perhaps. I’ll mention this too—
The glint again.
In a tiny splinter of a second: A flicker of movement disturbed the tree’s sparse leaves, and the tall window in front of him exploded. Glass turned to a million crystals of blowing snow, fire blossomed in his chest.
Moreno found himself lying on the couch, which had been five feet behind him.
But… but what happened here? What is this? I’m fainting, I’m fainting.
I can’t breathe.
He stared at the tree, now clearer, so much clearer, without the window glass filtering the view. The branches waved in the sweet wind off the water. Leaves swelling, receding. It was breathing for him. Because he couldn’t, not with his chest on fire. Not with the pain.
Shouts, cries for help around him.
Blood, blood everywhere.
Sun setting, sky going darker and darker. But isn’t it morning? Moreno had images of his wife, his teenage son and daughter. His thoughts dissolved until he was aware of only one thing: the tree.
Poison and strength, poison and strength.
The fire within him was easing, vanishing. Tearful relief.
Darkness becoming darker.
The poisonwood tree.
MONDAY, MAY 15
IS HE ON HIS WAY OR NOT?” Lincoln Rhyme asked, not trying to curb the irritation.
“Something at the hospital,” came Thom’s voice from the hallway or kitchen or wherever he was. “He’ll be delayed. He’ll call when he’s free.”
“‘Something.’ Well, that’s specific. ‘Something at the hospital.’”
“That’s what he told me.”
“He’s a doctor. He should be precise. And he should be on time.”
“He’s a doctor,” Thom replied, “which means he has emergencies to deal with.”
“But he didn’t say ‘emergency.’ He said, ‘something.’ The operation is scheduled for May twenty-six. I don’t want it delayed. That’s too far in the future anyway. I don’t see why he couldn’t do it sooner.”
Rhyme motored his red Storm Arrow wheelchair to a computer monitor. He parked next to the rattan chair in which sat Amelia Sachs, in black jeans and sleeveless black shell. A gold pendant of one diamond and one pearl dangled from a thin chain around her neck. The day was early and spring sunlight fired through the east-facing windows, glancing alluringly off her red hair tied in a bun, tucked carefully up with pewter pins. Rhyme turned his attention back to the screen, scanning a crime scene report for a homicide he’d just helped the NYPD close.
“About done,” she said.
They sat in the parlor of his town house on Central Park West in Manhattan. What presumably had once been a subdued, quiet chamber for visitors and suitors in Boss Tweed’s day was now a functioning crime scene lab. It was filled with evidence examination gear and instrumentation, computers and wires, everywhere wires, which made the transit of Rhyme’s wheelchair forever bumpy, a sensation that he experienced only from his shoulders up.
“The doctor’s late,” Rhyme muttered to Sachs. Unnecessarily since she’d been ten feet away from his exchange with Thom. But he was still irritated and felt better laying on a bit more censure. He carefully moved his right arm forward to the touchpad and scrolled through the last paragraphs of the report. “Good.”
“I’ll send it?”
He nodded and she hit a key. The encrypted sixty-five pages headed off into the ether to arrive ultimately six miles away at the NYPD’s crime scene facility in Queens, where they would become the backbone of the case of People v. Williams.
Done… except for testifying at the trial of the drug lord, who had sent twelve- and thirteen-year-olds out into the streets of East New York and Harlem to do his killing for him. Rhyme and Sachs had managed to locate and analyze minute bits of trace and impression evidence that led from one of the youngster’s shoes to the floor of a storefront in Manhattan to the carpet of a Lexus sedan to a restaurant in Brooklyn and finally to the house of Tye Williams himself.
The gang leader hadn’t been present at the murder of the witness, he hadn’t touched the gun, there was no record of him ordering the hit and the young shooter was too terrified to testify against him. But those hurdles for the prosecution didn’t matter; Rhyme and Sachs had spun a filament of evidence that stretched from the crime scene directly to Williams’s crib.
He’d be in jail for the rest of his life.
Sachs now closed her hand on Rhyme’s left arm, strapped to the wheelchair, immobile. He could see from the tendons faintly visible beneath her pale skin that she squeezed. The tall woman rose and stretched. They’d been working to finish the report since early morning. She’d awakened at five. He, a bit later.
Rhyme noticed that she winced as she walked to the table where her coffee cup sat. The arthritis in her hip and knee had been bad lately. Rhyme’s spinal cord injury, which rendered him a quadriplegic, was described as devastating. Yet it never gave him a moment’s pain.
All of our bodies, whoever we are, fail us to some degree, he reflected. Even those who at present were healthy and more or less content were troubled by clouds on the horizon. He pitied the athletes, the beautiful people, the young who were already anticipating decline with dread.
And yet, ironically, the opposite was true for Lincoln Rhyme. From the ninth circle of injury, he had been improving, thanks to new spinal cord surgical techniques and his own take-no-prisoners attitude about exercise and risky experimental procedures.
Which reminded him again that he was irritated the doctor was late for today’s assessment appointment, in anticipation of the upcoming surgery.
The two-tone doorbell chime sounded.
“I’ll get that,” Thom called.
The town house was disability-modified, of course, and Rhyme could have used a computer to view and converse with whoever was at the door and let them in. Or not. (He didn’t like folks to come-a-callin’ and tended to send them away—sometimes rudely—if Thom didn’t act fast.)
“Who is it? Check first.”
This couldn’t be Dr. Barrington, since he was going to call once he’d disposed of the “something” that had delayed him. Rhyme wasn’t in the mood for other visitors.
But whether his caregiver checked first or not didn’t matter apparently. Lon Sellitto appeared in the parlor.
“Linc, you’re home.”
The squat detective beelined to a tray with coffee and pastry.
“You want fresh?” Thom asked. The slim aide was dressed in a crisp white shirt, floral blue tie and dark slacks. Cuff links today, ebony or onyx.
“Naw, thanks, Thom. Hey, Amelia.”
“Hi, Lon. How’s Rachel?”
“Good. She’s taken up Pilates. That’s a weird word. It’s exercise or something.” Sellitto was decked out in a typically rumpled suit, brown, and a typically rumpled powder-blue shirt. He sported a striped crimson tie that was atypically smooth as a piece of planed wood. A recent present, Rhyme deduced. From girlfriend Rachel? The month was May—no holidays. Maybe it was a birthday present. Rhyme didn’t know the date of Sellitto’s. Or, for that matter, most other people’s.
Sellitto sipped coffee and pestered a Danish, two bites only. He was perpetually dieting.
Rhyme and the detective had worked together years ago, as partners, and it had largely been Lon Sellitto who’d pushed Rhyme back to work after the accident, not by coddling or cajoling but by forcing him to get off his ass and start solving crimes again. (More accurately, in Rhyme’s case, to stay on his ass and get back to work.) But despite their history Sellitto never came by just to hang out. The detective first-class was assigned to Major Cases, working out of the Big Building—One Police Plaza—and he was usually the lead detective on the cases for which Rhyme was hired to consult. His presence now was a harbinger.
“So.” Rhyme looked him over. “Do you have something good for me, Lon? An engaging crime? Intriguing?”
Sellitto sipped and nibbled. “All I know is I got a call from on top asking if you were free. I told ’em you were finishing up Williams. Then I was told to get here ASAP, meet somebody. They’re on their way.”
“‘Somebody’? ‘They’?” Rhyme asked acidly. “That’s as specific as the ‘something’ detaining my doctor. Seems infectious. Like the flu.”
“Hey, Linc. All I know.”
Rhyme cast a wry look toward Sachs. “I notice that no one called me about this. Did anybody call you, Sachs?”
“Not a jingle.”
Sellitto said, “Oh, that’s ’causa the other thing.”
“What other thing?”
“Whatever’s going on, it’s a secret. And it’s gotta stay that way.”
Which was, Rhyme decided, at least a step toward intriguing.
RHYME WAS LOOKING UP at the two visitors, as different as could be, now stepping into his parlor.
One was a man in his fifties, with a military bearing, wearing an untailored suit—the shoulders were the giveaway—in navy blue, bordering on black. He had a jowly, clean-shaven face, tanned skin and trim hair, marine-style. Has to be brass, Rhyme thought.
The other was a woman hovering around the early thirties. She was approaching stocky, though not overweight, not yet. Her blond, lusterless hair was in an anachronistic flip, stiffly sprayed, and Rhyme noted that her pale complexion derived from a mask of liberally applied flesh-toned makeup. He didn’t see any acne or other pocks and assumed the pancake was a fashion choice. There was no shadow or liner around her gun-muzzle black eyes, all the more stark given the cream shade of the face in which they were set. Her thin lips were colorless too and dry. Rhyme assessed that this was not a mouth that broke into a smile very often.
She would pick something to look at—equipment, the window, Rhyme—and turn a sandblast gaze on it until she had stripped it down to understanding or rendered it irrelevant. Her suit was dark gray, also not expensive, and all three plastic buttons were snugly fixed. The dark disks seemed slightly uneven and he wondered if she’d found a perfect-fitting suit with unfortunate accents and replaced them herself. The low black shoes were unevenly worn and had been doctored recently with liquid scuff cover-up.
Got it, Rhyme thought. He believed he knew her employer. And was all the more curious.
Sellitto said of the man, “Linc, this is Bill Myers.”
The visitor nodded. “Captain, an honor to meet you.” He used Rhyme’s last title with the NYPD, from when he’d retired on disability some years ago. This confirmed Myers’s job; Rhyme had been right, brass. And pretty senior.
Rhyme motored the electric wheelchair forward and thrust his hand out. The brass noted the jerky motion, hesitated then gripped it. Rhyme noticed something too: Sachs stiffen slightly. She didn’t like it when he used the limb and digits like this, unnecessarily, for social niceties. But Lincoln Rhyme couldn’t help himself. The past decade had been an effort to rectify what fate had done to him. He was proud of his few victories and exploited them.
Besides, what was the point of a toy if you never played with it?
Myers introduced the other mysterious “somebody.” Her name was Nance Laurel.
“Lincoln,” he said. Another handshake, seemingly firmer than Myers’s, though Rhyme, of course, couldn’t tell. Sensation did not accompany movement.
Laurel’s sharp gaze took in Rhyme’s thick brown hair, his fleshy nose, his keen dark eyes. She said nothing other than “Hello.”
“So,” he said. “You’re an ADA.”
Assistant district attorney.
She gave no physical reaction to his deduction, which was partly a guess. A hesitation, then: “Yes, I am.” Her voice was crisp, sibilant emphasized.
Sellitto then introduced Myers and Laurel to Sachs. The brass took in the policewoman as if he was very aware of her rep too. Rhyme noticed that Sachs winced a bit as she walked forward to shake hands. She corrected her gait as she returned to the chair. He alone, he believed, saw her subtly pop a couple of Advil into her mouth and swallow dry. However much the pain she never took anything stronger.
Myers too, it turned out, was a captain by rank and ran a branch of the department that Rhyme had not heard of, new apparently. The Special Services Division. His confident demeanor and cagey eyes suggested to Rhyme that he and his outfit were quite powerful within the NYPD. Possibly he was a player with an eye on a future in city government.
Rhyme himself had never had an interest in the gamesmanship of institutions like the NYPD, much less what lay beyond, Albany or Washington. All that interested him at the moment was the man’s presence. The appearance of a senior cop with mysterious departmental lineage alongside the focused terrier of an ADA suggested an assignment that would keep at bay the dreaded boredom that, since the accident, had become his worst enemy.
He felt the throbbing of anticipation, his heart, but via his temples, not his insensate chest.
Bill Myers deferred to Nance Laurel, saying, “I’ll let her unpack the situation.”
- On Sale
- Jun 4, 2013
- Page Count
- 752 pages
- Grand Central Publishing